We recently celebrated the first-ever South Asian Heritage Month (SAHM) (18th July to 17th August 2020). The month saw our social media feeds fill with colour, food, movies, workshops and a lovely delve into the heritage of our South Asian friends, family and colleagues. 

For me (Zarah), South Asian Heritage Month is complex. I was born in Mauritius and identify with the culture but my heritage is undoubtedly South Asian. My interest in my own cultural history ended up driving my academic choices, studying history and anthropology in relation to Mauritius. SAHM therefore is very hopeful for me, it provides us an insight into history we otherwise may not know or easily access. Another way we can do this is by learning about our colleagues, their culture and background. I have the honour of exampling that with my colleague Tej Riat who is one of our Project Support Officers. Tej shares a fascinating insight into his cultural background: 

About me: I was born and raised in Coventry as a Sikh.  Although I’m not totally religious I do like the underpinning Sikh values of Truth, Justice, Seva (which is to help others like serve the community especially the needy with food, shelter etc.), Equality between both men and women, everyone to be treated as one by respecting all religions and more importantly to be a good person in this world, i.e. to do good deeds which we believe will lead us to a good Karma/Kismet (fate/destiny) in our lifetime.

Why is SAHM important to you?

It is important to me to understand and respect the different cultures within our diverse communities to help embrace togetherness and raise awareness.  I just find the term ‘Asian’ as a very wide umbrella to describe quite a diverse background of different religions and cultures which I find very interesting and I think it’s important to discover the differences at the same time as respecting the diversities too.  

I love the traditions that follow like the meaning of Holi (festival of colours), Diwali (celebration of our new year based on our Indian calendar) and Vaisakhi (celebration of our Sikh heritage).  A colourful combination of beautiful rituals for engagement and wedding ceremonies, colourful costumes, Bhangra dancers along with a wide variety of different foods, possibly with the largest choice of delicious vegetarian dishes too.  Wow, what a variety and that’s just a small element.

What do you love the most about your SA heritage?

I love the fact that even our typical Indian Sikh names have meanings behind them and the fact that our first names can be used for both men and women to show equality. Our titles and our middle names identify whether we are male or female and our surnames trace our roots back to which specific village in India (or Punjab) where we originated from.  

For example my first name is Tejinder (in three syllables Tej-in-der which commonly tends to get abbreviated to Tej for simplicity.  The name Tej or Taj in our Sikh Punjabi background culture is interchangeable as in our Punjabi alphabet (with 40 letters not 26 as in the English alphabet) there is a special character letter which represents both ‘a’ and ‘e’ which are combined when spelling this name, so when translated to English some people translate it to Tejinder and some as Tajinder.  

This name is therefore quite special and unique as Tej in Sanskrit means ‘Excellence, Power, Brilliance, Glory’ and Tej in our Punjabi language actually means to be fast, efficient and resourceful.  The name Taj represents Royalty i.e. the crown/prince and status in life so when you combine the two in Punjabi its actually quite a gifted and meaningful name for any new-born Sikh child. 

My typical Sikh middle name is Singh (for males) which means ‘Lion’ as Sikhs were formed as a warrior race to help defend our motherland to help serve equality and justice through our Gurus (Teachers) at that time.  Whereas all typical Sikh females have Kaur as their middle name which means ‘princess’ out of love and are highly respected as they are the precious ones in our society that can give birth to our next generation.

My surname is Riat which tells me exactly where my father’s roots come from in India, Punjab and where my ancestors originated from a village called Samrama.  My mother before getting married was a Bhachu (maiden name) which originally traces back to a neighbouring village called Kandola in Punjab India.    

However, on a more humorous note although Sikh Punjabi names have meanings assigned to them they don’t really fit me at all, i.e. me being a ‘Royal Lion’, I’m more like a working class harmless mouse.

I just find this kind of information so meaningful and fascinating as there is so much to learn and explore within our Sikh/Asian heritage.  

Thank you to Tej for sharing a wonderful insight to your history. Even though the month is now over, it's never too late to have a look at the amazing content circulated by @SAHM_UK to hear more stories filled with beautiful history and culture. We would also encourage colleagues to find out about each other, learn about cultural background and history. Together we can make a space where everyone can bring their whole selves to work.